Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation


Climate-growth relationships of western juniper and ponderosa pine at the pine-woodland ecotone in southern Oregon Público Deposited

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  • Pinyon-juniper woodlands throughout the western U.S. have expanded rapidly following European settlement during the late 19th century. In central and eastern Oregon, western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis var. occidentalis Hook.) encroachment has been previously documented in the sagebrush steppe and upper elevation aspen communities. While these vegetation changes and dynamics have been extensively studied, the ability to accurately predict future effects on vegetation structure in response to climatic effects requires the identification of climatic factors that most directly regulate growth across variations in spatial features, particularly when future climate change is likely. I sought to address this problem at the pine-woodland ecotone using tree-ring data for western juniper and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Dougl. Ex Loud.) from the Fremont National Forest of central Oregon. Site and soil-derived growth chronologies for the period 1950 to 2000 were developed for both species using standard dendrochronological techniques at 17 sites within the Fremont National Forest stratified by elevation (1584 and 1865 meters). Analysis of the climatic relationship with site and soil-derived chronologies using correlation and linear regression revealed that, similar to previous studies in Oregon, radial growth in both species is highly dependent on winter-spring precipitation events that recharge growing-season soil water. Ordinations of site- and soil-derived chronology principal components (PCA) scores for both species identified distinct gradients in growth patterns related to elevation, slope, and soil infiltration class. Low elevation sites had reduced growth in the nine driest years during 1950-2000 compared to high elevation sites. Slope was also positively associated with the ratio of standardized growth in wet years to dry years (W:D), a measure of climate sensitivity. Tree growth of both species on coarse-textured soils with rapid infiltration rates was more climate-sensitive (higher values of W:D) and was also reduced during drought years when compared to other infiltration classes. These findings suggest potentially significant variation in growth responses to future climate changes across distinct local features at the pine-woodland ecotone. Juniper and pine radial growth at sites that feature poor water-holding capacities (i.e., low elevation, steep slopes, and coarse-textured soils) can be expected to be most sensitive to future drought and climate fluctuations in southern Oregon.
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